0

‘Pepita’ by Vita Sackville-West **

Vita Sackville-West was a prolific author indeed, writing fiction (novels and short stories), poetry, biographical works, travel literature, and a column on gardening, amongst other things.  Vita Sackville-West’s Pepita, a biography which portrays the lives of both her grandmother, Josefa, whom she never met, and her mother Victoria, was first published by Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s The Hogarth Press in 1937.  The edition which I read was sadly not an original, but it did include rather a lovely introduction written by Alison Hennegan.

Josefa, lovingly known as Pepita to those around her, was ‘the half-gypsy daughter of an 9781784871161old-clothes pedlar from Malaga’, who made her fortune as a dancer, first in Madrid, and then as the ‘toast of all Europe’.  In May 1852, when she was just twenty-two years old, she arrived in London, already having been married and separated.  She soon met and became the ‘contented though severely ostracized mistress of Lionel Sackville-West, an English aristocrat and diplomat’. and bore him five illegitimate children, of whom Sackville-West’s mother was the second eldest.

After Pepita’s death, her nine-year-old daughter Victoria was sent to live in a convent, where she stayed until she was eighteen.  At this juncture, she was summoned to Washington to become ‘mistress’ of her diplomat father’s household.  She goes on to find herself ‘the volatile and wayward mistress of Knole’ in what is termed in Pepita‘s blurb as an ‘unlikely inheritance’.

In her introduction, Hennegan states: ‘For what appears to be a straightforward joint biography of her grandmother and mother becomes the means whereby Vita explores and makes sense for herself of those warring elements in her own past and temperament which most exercised and perplexed her.’  She goes on to say that for Vita, it was her ‘”Spanishness” which enabled her to accept her lesbianism comparatively easily, her “Englishness” which forbade anything as “vulgar” as a public acknowledgement of it.’  Sackville-West herself saw Pepita as a ‘gift to herself of the mother she almost had… [and] an extended love letter to the woman she wanted her mother to be.’  She writes: ‘Pepita, can I re-create you?  Come to me.  Make yourself alive again.  Vitality such as yours cannot perish.  I know so much about you: I have talked to old men who knew you, and they have all told me the same legend of your beauty’ of the section on her grandmother.  She extends this rule of exploration, and the hearsay she has been told, when she writes about, and tries to understand, her mother.

Despite Sackville-West’s proclamation in her own introduction to the book that everything which she has written is true, it seems rather fanciful and unrealistic at times.  Due to the style which Sackville-West has adopted, Pepita reads more like a novel than a work of biography.  The historical context has been used well, and does give one a feel for the backdrop which both Pepita and Victoria lived against.  Sackville-West does recognise that her portrayal of both her mother and grandmother are heavily biased as, of course, one would expect: ‘The one person who never speaks in this whole history, is Pepita herself.  We see her always objectively, never subjectively…  Pepita herself is never explicit.  In order to understand her at all, we have to find a piece from a different part of the puzzle, and fit it in.’

What I found most interesting about this account was the effect which Pepita had upon Lionel.  Sackville-West writes: ‘I mean no disrespect to my grandfather, but I do not think he was the man ever to enjoy dealing with a difficult situation: he far preferred to go away if he decently could and leave it to somebody else.  Hitherto, Pepita had ordered his life, and now [after her death] there was to be an uncomfortable period of transition until Pepita’s eldest daughter was of an age to assume the same responsibility.’  The psychological effects of the First World War which Sackville-West presents are also fascinating.

There is a lot of Vita herself within the book, and not just in the fact that she is writing about her ancestry.   She measures herself against her mother and grandmother at junctures, and is always passing her own opinion about their characters, or the decisions which they made.  Of course she has a strong connection with both of her subjects, but there is nothing objective about this biography; there is not the level of detachment and feeling of truthfulness which I expect of works of this kind.  Sackville-West does not remove her own self from the book enough for it to be anything like a full and far-reaching biography.

Pepita is a relatively entertaining book, but I feel as though it pales in comparison to much of Sackville-West’s other work.  It is difficult to take Pepita at face value, and it lacks that engagement which I have come to expect from Sackville-West’s books.  It is clear that her relationship with her mother was turbulent, but it feels at times as though episodes have been suppressed, or skimmed over.  There is no real explanation as to their relationship which lasts long enough to be entirely satisfying.  Overall, Pepita did not quite live up to my expectations.

Purchase from The Book Depository

Advertisements
0

The Book Trail: The Awfully Long Titles Edition

I have decided to begin this edition of The Book Trail with one of my favourite non-fiction picks of 2016.  As ever, I have used the ‘Readers Also Enjoyed’ feature on Goodreads to come up with the following list of intriguing non-fiction books, all of which have rather elaborate titles.  As ever, let me know which pique your interest!

1. Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh 22907030
What is it like to be a brain surgeon?  How does it feel to hold someone’s life in your hands, to cut into the stuff that creates thought, feeling and reason?  How do you live with the consequences of performing a potentially life-saving operation when it all goes wrong?  In neurosurgery, more than in any other branch of medicine, the doctor’s oath to ‘do no harm’ holds a bitter irony. Operations on the brain carry grave risks. Every day, Henry Marsh must make agonising decisions, often in the face of great urgency and uncertainty.  If you believe that brain surgery is a precise and exquisite craft, practised by calm and detached surgeons, this gripping, brutally honest account will make you think again. With astonishing compassion and candour, one of the country’s leading neurosurgeons reveals the fierce joy of operating, the profoundly moving triumphs, the harrowing disasters, the haunting regrets and the moments of black humour that characterise a brain surgeon’s life.  Do No Harm is an unforgettable insight into the countless human dramas that take place in a busy modern hospital. Above all, it is a lesson in the need for hope when faced with life’s most difficult decisions.’

 

2. Adventures in Human Being: A Grand Tour from the Cranium to the Calcaneum by Gavin Francis
We assume we know our bodies intimately, but for many of us they remain uncharted territory. How many of us understand the way seizures affect the brain, how the heart is connected to wellbeing, or the why the foot carries the key to our humanity? In Adventures in Human Being, award-winning author Gavin Francis leads readers on a journey into the hidden pathways of the human body, offering a guide to its inner workings and a celebration of its marvels.  Drawing on his experiences as a surgeon, ER specialist, and family physician, Francis blends stories from the clinic with episodes from medical history, philosophy, and literature to describe the body in sickness and in health, in living and in dying. At its heart, Adventures in Human Being is a meditation on what it means to be human. Poetic, eloquent, and profoundly perceptive, this book will transform the way you view your body.

 

3. Butterfly People: An American Encounter with the Beauty of the World by 13330695William R. Leach
A product of William Leach’s lifelong love of butterflies, this engaging and elegantly illustrated history shows how Americans from all walks of life passionately pursued butterflies, and how through their discoveries and observations they transformed the character of natural history. Leach focuses on the correspondence and scientific writings of half a dozen pioneering lepidopterists who traveled across the country and throughout the world, collecting and studying unknown and exotic species. In a book as full of life as the subjects themselves and foregrounding a collecting culture now on the brink of vanishing, Leach reveals how the beauty of butterflies led Americans into a deeper understanding of the natural world. He shows, too, that the country’s enthusiasm for butterflies occurred at the very moment that another form of beauty—the technological and industrial objects being displayed at world’s fairs and commercial shows—was emerging, and that Americans’ attraction to this new beauty would eventually, and at great cost, take precedence over nature in general and butterflies in particular.

 

4. The Snoring Bird: My Family’s Journey Through a Century of Biology by Bernd Heinrich
From Bernd Heinrich, the bestselling author of Winter World, comes the remarkable story of his father’s life, his family’s past, and how the forces of history and nature have shaped his own life. Although Bernd Heinrich’s father, Gerd, a devoted naturalist, specialized in wasps, Bernd tried to distance himself from his “old-fashioned” father, becoming a hybrid: a modern, experimental biologist with a naturalist’s sensibilities.  In this remarkable memoir, the award-winning author shares the ways in which his relationship with his father, combined with his unique childhood, molded him into the scientist, and man, he is today. From Gerd’s days as a soldier in Europe to the family’s daring escape from the Red Army in 1945 to the rustic Maine farm they came to call home, Heinrich relates it all in his trademark style, making science accessible and awe-inspiring.

 

96341915. Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle by Thor Hanson
Feathers are an evolutionary marvel: aerodynamic, insulating, beguiling. They date back more than 100 million years. Yet their story has never been fully told. In Feathers, biologist Thor Hanson details a sweeping natural history, as feathers have been used to fly, protect, attract, and adorn through time and place. Applying the research of paleontologists, ornithologists, biologists, engineers, and even art historians, Hanson asks: What are feathers? How did they evolve? What do they mean to us? Engineers call feathers the most efficient insulating material ever discovered, and they are at the root of biology’s most enduring debate. They silence the flight of owls and keep penguins dry below the ice. They have decorated queens, jesters, and priests. And they have inked documents from the Constitution to the novels of Jane Austen. Feathers is a captivating and beautiful exploration of this most enchanting object.

 

6. Poseidon’s Steed: The Story of Seahorses, from Myth to Reality by Helen Scales
Poseidon’s Steed trails the seahorse through secluded waters across the globe in a kaleidoscopic history that mirrors man?s centuries-old fascination with the animal, sweeping from the reefs of Indonesia, through the back streets of Hong Kong, and back in time to ancient Greece and Rome. Over time, seahorses have surfaced in some unlikely places. We see them immortalized in the decorative arts; in tribal folklore, literature, and ancient myth; and even on the pages of the earliest medical texts, prescribed to treat everything from skin complaints to baldness to flagging libido. Marine biologist Helen Scales eloquently shows that seahorses are indeed fish, though scientists have long puzzled over their exotic anatomy, and their very strange sex lives?male seahorses are the only males in the animal world that experience childbirth!  Our first seahorse imaginings appeared six thousand years ago on cave walls in Australia. The ancient Greeks called the seahorse hippocampus (half-horse, half-fish) and sent it galloping through the oceans of mythology, pulling the sea god Poseidon?s golden chariot. The seahorse has even been the center of a modern-day international art scandal: A two-thousand-year-old winged seahorse brooch was plundered by Turkish tomb raiders and sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  A book that is as charming as the seahorse itself, Poseidon’s Steed brings to life an aquatic treasure.’

 

7. Voyage of the Turtle: In Pursuit of the Earth’s Last Dinosaur by Carl Safina 40789
Though nature is indifferent to the struggles of her creatures, the human effect on them is often premeditated. The distressing decline of sea turtles in Pacific waters and their surprising recovery in the Atlantic illuminate what can go both wrong and right from our interventions, and teach us the lessons that can be applied to restore health to the world’s oceans and its creatures. As Carl Safina’s compelling natural history adventure makes clear, the fate of the astonishing leatherback turtle, whose ancestry can be traced back 125 million years, is in our hands.  Writing with verve and color, Safina describes how he and his colleagues track giant pelagic turtles across the world’s oceans and onto remote beaches of every continent. As scientists apply lessons learned in the Atlantic and Caribbean to other endangered seas, Safina follows leatherback migrations, including a thrilling journey from Monterey, California, to nesting grounds on the most remote beaches of Papua, New Guinea. The only surviving species of its genus, family, and suborder, the leatherback is an evolutionary marvel: a “reptile” that behaves like a warm-blooded dinosaur, an ocean animal able to withstand colder water than most fishes and dive deeper than any whale.

 

8. The Species Seekers: Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff
Beginning with Linnaeus, a colorful band of explorers made it their mission to travel to the most perilous corners of the planet and bring back astonishing new life forms. They attracted followers ranging from Thomas Jefferson, who laid out mastodon bones on the White House floor, to twentieth-century doctors who used their knowledge of new species to conquer epidemic diseases. Acclaimed science writer Richard Conniff brings these daredevil “species seekers” to vivid life. Alongside their globe-spanning tales of adventure, he recounts some of the most dramatic shifts in the history of human thought. At the start, everyone accepted that the Earth had been created for our benefit. We weren’t sure where vegetable ended and animal began, we couldn’t classify species, and we didn’t understand the causes of disease. But all that changed as the species seekers introduced us to the pantheon of life on Earth—and our place within it.

 

Purchase from The Book Depository

0

‘White Mountain: Real and Imagined Journeys in the Himalayas’ by Robert Twigger **

I came across a copy of Robert Twigger’s White Mountain: Real and Imagined Journeys in the Himalayas whilst browsing for books to take on holiday.  I hadn’t heard of it before, but was very much intrigued by the title and blurb.  I love travelogues and travel literature, and imagined that this would be a mixture of the two.  Its blurb says: ‘These mountains, home to Buddhists, Bonpas, Jains, Muslims, Hindus, Shamans and animals, to name only a few, are a place of pilgrimage and dreams, revelation and war, massacre and invasion, but also peace and unutterable calm.’

9780297608714In White Mountain, Twigger professes that he wishes to look at and explore the links between real and imagined journeys over the vast range of the Himalayas.  His father was born there, and he therefore feels a connection, which pushes him toward exploring the mountains himself.   In his own trips to the region, he ‘encounters incredible stories from a unique cast of mountaineers and mystics, pundits and prophets.  The result is a sweeping, enthralling and surprising journey through the history of the world’s greatest mountain range.’

White Mountain did not live up to my expectations.  Rather than the geographical biography which I was expecting, I was met with an incredibly imbalanced range of chapters, some of which are so short as to say barely anything, and others which are so long that they ramble and meander around points which could be interesting, had they been focused upon.  The historical detail was fascinating; the religious detail was rather overblown, and saturated the whole.  The nods to science are rendered intelligently.

However, Twigger has an odd habit of repeating himself throughout, and giving the same details over and over again.  Much of White Mountain, indeed, is about Twigger himself; he comes across as rather self-righteous, and often overshadows the fascinating stories of explorers in the region with his own experiences.  Quotes from others have been included, but these are often left alone, and not analysed in any way.

Upon finishing White Mountain, I awarded it three stars, but after mulling my decision over, I have decided to downgrade it to two.  The book had such a lot of potential which simply has not been reached, and the way in which it has been structured is jarring, and lacks balance.  Photographs have been randomly placed throughout; they have little bearing for the most part about what has been written, and serve to interrupt the narrative.  I would, for all of these reasons, steer clear of Twigger’s books in future.

Purchase from The Book Depository

0

Reading the World: ‘But You Did Not Come Back’ by Marceline Loridan-Ivens ****

In 1944, when she was just fifteen, Marceline Loridan-Ivens and her father were arrested in occupied France, and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  At the concentration camp, the pair were forcibly separated, and she was only able to speak to her father once more.  But You Did Not Come Back is a letter to the father whom ‘she would never know as an adult, to the man whose death has enveloped her life.  With poignant honesty, she tells him of the events that have continued to haunt her, of the collapse of their family, and of her efforts to find a place in a changing world’.  Le Parisien calls Loridan-Ivens’ memoir ‘one of the most beautiful books of the year’, and promise that ‘you will read it in one sitting’.  But You Did Not Come Back has been translated from its original French by Sandra Smith, who handles all of the Irene Nemirovsky translations.  It was first published in 2015, and in English last year.

9780571328024But You Did Not Come Back begins in the following way: ‘I was quite a cheerful person, you know, in spite of what happened to us. …  But I’m changing.  It isn’t bitterness, I’m not bitter.  It’s just as if I were already gone. …  I don’t belong here anymore.  Perhaps it’s an acceptance of death, or a lack of will.  I’m slowing down.’  She goes on to harrowingly describe the situation which she and her father were thrust into, and how their separation affected her: ‘Between us stood fields, prison blocks, watchtowers, barbed wire, crematoriums, and above all else, the unbearable certainty of what was happening to us all.  It was as if we were separated by thousands of kilometers.’

Loridan-Ivens meets her father once more, quite by chance when returning from a work detail.  When the pair embrace, she describes the following: ‘Our senses came alive again, the sense of touch, the feel of a body we loved.  That moment would cost us dearly, but for a few precious seconds, it interrupted the merciless script written for us all.’  The next day, she passes him again: ‘You were there, so close to me, very thin, wearing a baggy striped uniform, but still a magician, a man who could astonish me.’  She is just as honest about what being imprisoned in such a notorious concentration camp does to her, and those around her: ‘The first things we lost were the feelings of love and sensitivity.  You freeze inside so you don’t die.  There, you know very well how the spirit shrivels, the future lasts for five minutes, you lose who you are.’  Whilst detailing her experiences within the camp, Loridan-Ivens often writes using ‘we’ rather than ‘I’; through this narrative choice, she demonstrates just how many were in the same situation as her, and the collective feelings which were shared.  Her voice continually speaks to her father; she addresses questions to him, and aches to know his opinions.

Loridan-Ivens was eighty-six when she chose to write But You Did Not Come Back, and it is clear that doing so was a very painful experience.  She describes her isolation when the war ends and Bergen-Belsen, where she is transported to, is liberated; returning home, she finds that nobody but her father understood what she went through in the camps, and the majority of people around her forbid her to talk of her experiences.  She writes: ‘I wasn’t running away from ghosts, quite the contrary, I was chasing after them, after you.  Who else could I share anything with?’

But You Did Not Come Back is incredibly moving and poignant; it is as heartfelt as it is heartbreaking.  Just one hundred pages long, it can be read in a relatively short time, but its messages are unlikely to be forgotten.  Loridan-Ivens demonstrates in her beautiful and brave memoir, which has been seamlessly translated, that the bond between father and daughter can never truly be broken.

Purchase from The Book Depository

0

‘In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom’ by Yeonmi Park ****

I find North Korea – and, indeed, life in dictatorships in general – fascinating, perhaps more so due to the general lack of knowledge which we in the Western world have had about the country until very recently.  Yeonmi Park’s memoir, In Order to Live, tells of her escape from North Korea, and its consequences; she fled from the country with her mother when she was just thirteen, arriving first in China, and then in South Korea.  The escape itself does not come without problems.  Even when she and her mother reach China, they are under the control of those who helped to smuggle them across the border; both were trafficked, and horrifically abused.  Reflecting upon her life thus far, Park writes: ‘I am most grateful for two things: that I was born in North Korea, and that I escaped from North Korea.  Both of these events shaped me, and I would not trade them for an ordinary and peaceful life.’

Park spent much of her childhood in Hyesan, a city in an impoverished part of northern North Korea, not far from the Chinese border.  Of her home, she writes: ‘In our part of North Korea, it was normal to go for weeks and even months without any electricity’.  Park’s descriptions of North Korea in the twenty first-century make it seem entirely alien.  She is honest about the levels of censorship which exist, things that she did not realise until she escaped, and was able to learn about her country from other, less biased sources: ‘The regime blocks all outside information, all videos and movies, and jam radio signals.  There is no World Wide Web and no Wikipedia.  The only books are filled with propaganda, telling us that we live in the greatest country in the world, even though at least half of North Koreans live in extreme poverty, and many are chronically malnourished.’ 9780241973035

Of the writing and remembering process which Park had to go through in order to craft her memoir, she writes: ‘Some of the images reappeared with a terrible clarity; others were hazy, or scrambled like a deck of cards spilled on the floor.  The process of writing has been the process of remembering, and of trying to make sense out of those memories.’  Park goes on to demonstrate the marked comparisons between her old world and her new, which are sometimes quite surprising.  In North Korea, she writes, ‘There was no music blaring in the background, no eyes glued to smartphones back then.  But there was human intimacy and connection, something that is hard to find in the modern world I inhabit today.’

Park’s story is both moving and markedly honest.  She writes starkly of the consequences of her escape, which prohibit her from ever seeing her homeland again under its current leadership: ‘Many of us who escape call ourselves “defectors” because by refusing to accept our fate and die for the Leader, we have deserted our duty.  The regime calls us traitors.  If I tried to return, I would be executed’.  What Park writes of the regime, and its level of control, itself is very chilling at times: ‘I actually believed that our Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il, could read my mind, and I would be punished for my bad thoughts.’  Perhaps most poignant are the ways in which she demonstrates the regime’s ability to alter people irrevocably; her own mother, for instance, ends up living her life in fear.  She shows that the tiniest transgressions from what she was supposed to do gave her a tiny, sparkling taste of freedom.

In Order to Live is as important as it is enlightening; it demonstrates just how much freedom many of the countries in the world allow their citizens.  This freedom is something which is withheld from millions, and should never be taken for granted.  The Korean history here is thorough, and nothing short of fascinating.  In telling her story, Park has presented a memoir which is at once achingly sad and hopeful; now studying at Columbia University in New York, she is the voice bravely and wonderfully speaking out for her oppressed people, and against her home nation.  In Order to Live is an essential tome for understanding just how diverse different cultures in the world are, and how, with bravery, it is possible to overcome oppression and make a better life for oneself.  Park beautifully demonstrates the strength and resilience of the human spirit in the very worst of situations, and the lengths which one will go to in order to survive.

Purchase from The Book Depository

0

‘The Best Women’s Travel Writing, Volume 11: True Stories from Around the World’, edited by Lavinia Spalding ****

The Best Women’s Travel Writing, Volume 11 felt like a fantastic choice to read on holiday; I did so whilst sheltering in a hotel room in Miami from Hurricane Irma, in fact.  Lavinia Spalding has already edited several of the volumes in the Best Women’s Travel Writing collection, and the eleventh is the most recent.

In her introduction, Spalding comes up with the following, and rather lovely, allegory.   During the editing process of the book, she ‘came to the conclusion that to be good travelers, we must embody the qualities of water: its beauty, strength, mutability, fluidity, and determination.  We need its capacity to ebb and flow; to permeate the most hidden and unreachable places; to soften and smooth what it moves against; to carve a path through seemingly impenetrable obstacles; to change form, and allow itself to be changed.’

The women featured in this collection, who have travelled all over the world for many 25785280different reasons, write about a lot of places which I have personally been to, and many more which are destinations on my future travel list (which is, frankly, enormous).  They use travel as a means of escape, or a means of belonging; of finding themselves, or of knowing themselves better.  They travel for work, for love, or for pleasure.  What was great about making my way through the chosen essays here is that they have all been randomly ordered; thus, you can flit from one continent to another, and then back again in the space of three entries.  Some of the destinations are repeated, as one might expect with such a collection, but every story feels fresh and new regardless.

The Best Women’s Travel Writing, Volume II is both fascinating and current.  Zora O’Neill’s essay,  ‘On the Migrant Trail’, for instance, describes her choosing at random the same journey from Turkey to Greece that ‘hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan’ take.  There is a wonderful honesty which shines through in many of these meaningful essays, and every single author shows just how rewarding having a sense of adventure and a valid passport can be.

Purchase from The Book Depository

4

‘Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer’ by Ann Morgan **

I love undertaking reading projects, such as Ann Morgan does as the basis for Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer.  I have never, however, read only translated literature throughout the course of a year, as Morgan does.  She decided, when the Olympics came to London in 2012, that she would read one work published in every country in the world during the course of the year, and blog about them.  This sounds like an easier project than she found it, on the face of it; firstly, the difficulty of deciding how many countries are in the world came about (the numbers differ wildly dependent on who is being asked), and is discussed in depth in the first chapter, before she discusses the trouble which she sometimes had in getting her hands on a single book from some of the countries.

I had read several mixed reviews about Reading the World before I began to read, and the doubt which some readers have had in Morgan’s approach to her book are, I feel, justified.  I thought that Reading the World would be like Nina Sankovitch’s wonderful account of a yearly reading journey, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, with a lot of focus upon the books chosen, the reasons for them, and a series of personal thoughts which follow the reading.  Instead, Morgan presents what feels like a series of loosely connected essays, talking at length about the ways in which we define world literature, and addressing things like cultural identity and heritage, and the kinds of books which tend to be translated into English.9781846557873

The majority of the books which Morgan read during 2012 are not even mentioned in the body of the text; rather, they have been fashioned into a list at the back of the book, which is ordered alphabetically by country.  These entries do not always include the translator, and feel a little inconsistent as a result.

Reading the World is undoubtedly an intelligent book, but it is not one which I would recommend to the general reader.  For the most part, Morgan’s prose is fine, but in several places it came across as clunky, repetitive, and even a little patronising.  There is an academic, or perhaps just a highbrow, feel to it, which does not make it an easy tome to dip in and out of at will, like many other books about books tend to be; it errs toward the heavy-going in places.

It isn’t that Reading the World is an uninteresting book; it is simply not at all what I was expecting.  I would go as far to say that it is more involved with the translation and publishing processes, than with reading the end results.  I did read Reading the World through to its conclusion, but did not find it a very engaging book.  All in all, the ideas which went toward the book were far better than its execution, which seems a great shame.  I have, perhaps fittingly, left my copy in one of those sweet little free libraries in France.

Purchase from The Book Depository